Now that The Electrical Life of Louis Wain has premiered at both the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival (where it’s getting an extra in-person screening on Wednesday!), we think we have enough reviews to make a post dedicated exclusively to them.
We’re including only the non-spoiler-y bits from each, but we’re linking them all below. Just click on the outlets’ name for the full versions, if you’re interested, but please keep in mind some have serious spoilers.
Also, we need to point out this isn’t an exhaustive list of reviews, some aren’t included because they’ don’t talk much about either Benedict’s performance or the fillmaking or do so by giving too much away.
That being said, here they are!
From Peter Debruge’s review for Variety:
Benedict Cumberbatch Is the Cat’s Whiskers
This peculiar British comedy features an adorably awkward Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role […]
The movie needn’t make the case for Wain’s greatness to justify its own telling: His story is compelling, especially in its early chapters, and Sharpe’s distinctive style shows the director no shortage of tricks up his sleeve (with more to come in a career worth watching).
From Anna Smith’s review for Deadline:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy and a cast of cats make an irresistible combination in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival. Director Will Sharpe (Flowers) makes witty, poignant work of the story of English painter Wain, who specialized in exaggerated cartoons of wide-eyed felines from the late 1800s.
From Stephen Farber’s review for The Hollywood Reporter:
Whimsy is always a tricky game to play onscreen, which pretty much guarantees that Will Sharpe’s The Electrical Life of Louis Wain will divide audiences. Excellent lead performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy bolster the uneven film, which premiered at Telluride, and its enchanting visual style also helps to compensate for some self-indulgence in the screenplay by Sharpe and Simon Stephenson.
[…] Cumberbatch and Foy play beautifully together; the chemistry is palpable, and both performers know how to charm audiences without overselling the romance.
From Kate Taylor’s review for The Globe and Mail:
Director Will Sharpe and actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy do their damnedest to turn the life of Louis Wain into a heartwarming story about making space for creative eccentricity.
[…] Cumberbatch excels once again at breathing life into a sorrowful genius.
From Monica Castillo’s review for The Wrap:
Benedict Cumberbatch Lights Up Eccentric Biopic
[…] Cumberbatch plays Wain as a bashfully sweet but strange eccentric. He’s a childlike figure who, once fascinated by something, is wholly transfixed by it, a part Cumberbatch plays very well.
[…] Director Sharpe makes some bold creative decisions that will either charm or repel viewers. His vision of Wain’s story is much more whimsical in nature than the traditional biopic, including colorful and artfully composed scenes filmed by cinematographer Erik Wilson (“Paddington 2”) that blur the line between fantasy and reality.
[…] “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” isn’t interested in wallowing in misery. Instead, this amusing retelling of Wain’s life is a way to introduce his quirky illustrations to a new generation, putting them in a new light that’s more in line with the irreverent and animated creatures Wain once imagined years ago.
From Johnny Oleksinski’s review for the New York Post:
[…] Wain is played by Benedict Cumberbatch — who’s turning into the King of Film Fests — in the whimsical dramedy “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday.
[…] So does Cumberbatch. Wain is the sort of wacko role the actor excels at: quick, out-of-the-box and, eventually, physically transformative. What stretches him and what we don’t see very often, however, is his very honest love for Emily. The actor and Foy light an instant flame that never goes out.
From Chris Evangelista’s review for Slash Film:
Louis Wain was very real, though, and here he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch, in sharp contrast to his cruel and career-best turn in his other TIFF movie this year, “The Power of the Dog.” Watching these two movies together is a true testament to Cumberbatch’s craft, because as scary and threatening as he is in “Power of the Dog,” he’s incredibly warm and affable here.
From Lewis Knight’s review for the Daily Mirror:
Often the best biopics are ones that strive away from the conventional.
Directed by the multi-talented Will Sharpe, The Electric Life of Louis Wain is certainly not one of this genre that sticks to the formula.
[…] Vitally, despite often being most celebrated for his portrayal of ‘misfit’ characters, Cumberbatch is not tiresome or cliche in his turn as the child-like, unpredictable and occasionally rather hopeless Louis, offering an examination of an artist who is often the victim of his own comedy of errors.
Cumberbatch is wonderfully complemented by Foy who never ceases to amaze with her almost sorceress-like ability to emanate powerful human emotions from her eyes – delivering wonderful comedic moments but also some of the most heartbreaking scenes in the film.
[…] Ultimately, The Electric Life of Louis Wain is a charming triumph that will prove to be a true crowd-pleaser.
From Robert Daniels’ review for Roger Ebert:
Director Will Sharpe’s quirky biopic “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” shouldn’t work.
[…] “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” is extremely flawed, and rarely makes any logical or tonal sense. Even so, you can tell how much Sharpe identifies with Louis. That connection gives this bizarre biopic its strange heartbeat. “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” is just an exceptionally sincere piece of filmmaking.
From Sarah Cook’s review for Hey U Guys:
[…] Our Louis Wain is none other Benedict Cumberbatch who has had a slew of performances as the tortured but brilliant genius. Louis Wain is a different character altogether.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wainis a whimsical yet emotional affair that is powered by Cumberbatch in a galvanising lead performance and, ahem, electrifying supporting roles from Foy and Riseborough. Plus, you’ll be roused to see some jubilant cameos from a whole array of British (and occasionally Kiwi) actors here.
Above all this acting pageantry and fine filmmaking, the message here is that sometime fine to be on your own frequency – to see colours, shapes, and waves of a hidden world that makes your life brighter. Occasionally, you’ll find someone in tune to those thoughts as much as you are. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is not about seeing your eccentricities as obstacles, keeping locked away and drowning, but rather as tools to reach out and show people how you see the world. Because it is just as valid and important.
Oh, and above all of this, that cats are just bloody phenomenal.
From Clint Worthington’s review for Awards Watch:
Many artists are never appreciated in their time; others get the appreciation, but little of the money and fame. The latter is definitely true of early 20th-century painter Louis Wain, the subject of Will Sharpe’s delightfully eccentric The Electrical Life of Louis Wain. Benedict Cumberbatch may well get more acclaim for his villainous turn in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, also playing at TIFF; but his wounded, complicated work here also deserves attention.
[…] As Wain, Cumberbatch gives a predictably (but effectively) mannered performance. Like a certain detective before him, he sticks out like a sore thumb in any environment, his long limbs and clipped, stammering speech making him both sweet and off-putting in equal measure. But Cumberbatch finds the nuances in Wain’s eccentricities without turning him into a caricature;
[…] Sharpe’s film folds those tragedies into the broader joy and, shall we say, electricity he brought to his life and those who enjoy his artworks. It’s a tremendously charming ode to the man himself, and the cats he loved (and, by extension, made us love).
From Jeanine T. Abraham’s review for Black Girl Nerds:
Every facet of this film is spectacular. The screenplay is divine […] Cumberbatch’s embodiment of Louis is brilliant. Cumberbatch changes his physicality and vocal tone, and the degree of tenderness and vulnerability he employs allows the audience to fall in love with Louis.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain touched my heart. I cried for 10 minutes after this film, and I haven’t cried at a film since watching One Night in Miami. We live on this planet for such a short period of time. How we love one another matters. The Electrical Life of Louis Wain reflects the brilliant connective power of transforming sorrow and anxiety into art.
And, to wrap it up… just a few lovely, also non-spoilery reactions from Twitter:
The biggest question after watching Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog and The Electical Life of Louis Wain is will he be nominated for two Academy Awards this year— Christopher Huot (@cshuot) September 5, 2021